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Figure 2.3 Trends in agricultural area from 1990-2005 in six different regions of the world (FAO 2009b). Agricultural areas have increased in the tropics and have decreased or not seen any major change elsewhere.

Africa

Asia Europe North America Oceania South America

Figure 2.3 Trends in agricultural area from 1990-2005 in six different regions of the world (FAO 2009b). Agricultural areas have increased in the tropics and have decreased or not seen any major change elsewhere.

As mentioned, the FAO statistics have major uncertainties. In particular, the data on permanent pasture is highly uncertain. Ramankutty et al. (2008) estimate the global area of pasture to be 28 million km2, as opposed to the 34 million km2 estimated by FAO.3 Therefore, if we limit our analysis to the changes in cropland alone, we see that the largest increase in croplands since 1990 occurred in the tropics (Figure 2.4). Between 1990 and 2000 Europe saw a large decrease, which is largely attributable to the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1992. The countries with the greatest increase in croplands are Brazil, Sudan, and Indonesia,4 while the U.S.S.R. and U.S.A. exhibited the largest decreases.

These changes in agricultural land area are generally consistent with the loss of forests, as reported by the Forest Resources Assessment 2005 (FAO 2005). Since 1990 forest area has declined in the tropical regions of the world, while forests have stabilized or even expanded elsewhere (Figure 2.5). Brazil and Indonesia witnessed the greatest loss of forests, while China experienced a large increase owing to large-scale afforestation programs (FAO 2005).

Are We Running Out of Land?

What do the current rates of land change imply? Often we read reports of the extent of global land change, and for context, the change is often equated to

Indeed, the FAO (2009c) definition of permanent pastures includes the following caveat: "The dividing line between this category and the category 'forests and woodland' is rather indefinite, especially in the case of shrubs, savannah, etc., which may have been reported under either of these two categories."

The FAO data shows China as having the largest increase in croplands. However, this data is very likely erroneous. Other studies have shown a decrease in croplands in China over the recent decades (Heilig 1999).

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